Michael Hope, 36, greets Subway employees Lisseth Pulidi, center, and… (Liz O. Baylen, Los Angeles…)
Outside a Subway restaurant in West Hollywood, Michael Hope adjusted his Santa hat, stuffed a festive Christmas bag with cellophane-wrapped cookies and prepared to make his first delivery.
"OK, let's see who's working," said Hope, 36, as he walked into the Subway. Andrew Neal, 29, peered through the window.
Like Hope and Neal in Los Angeles, volunteers around the country spent Christmas delivering homemade cookies to gas station attendants, baristas, grocery store clerks and others who had pulled the holiday shift.
"It's easy to remember the firefighters and policemen who work on Christmas Day," said John Marcotte, founder of the Cookie Project. "Even soup kitchens are booked with volunteers.... But no one remembers the guy at the fryer at a fast-food restaurant or the person making your latte."
Two years ago, Marcotte, 42, rallied his family and friends in Sacramento and surprised movie theater projectionists, Sizzler janitors and Starbucks baristas with Christmas cookies. Some cried, others danced in good humor and many were touched that they were being appreciated, he said.
Marcotte's message went viral the following year, and volunteers in San Francisco and elsewhere baked and delivered cookies to those who couldn't spend Christmas with their families. More than 1,200 homemade cookies were delivered in Sacramento, he said.
"For my kids, Christmas Day has become about giving to people rather than getting things," he said. "They're excited on Christmas Day because that's the day we go out to give to other people."
The Cookie Project is a loosely organized movement that anyone can join online, Marcotte said. Last year, someone in Portland unexpectedly sent the Cookie Project a thank-you note — Marcotte didn't even know he had a volunteer in Portland baking and delivering on Christmas Day.
This year, volunteers fanned out in West Virginia, New York, Oklahoma and Michigan. A woman from Tasmania, who happened to be in Northern California last Christmas, said she would bring Marcotte's message back to her Australian hometown.
And in Los Angeles this year, Hope and Neal were inspired to bring the Cookie Project to Southern California.
Their friends and family were busy or out of town, so the two-man team set out Wednesday morning with their Siberian Husky, Kodi, and 200 cookies. It's not easy to initiate anything in L.A., "but as long as we start it, more people will think about it," Hope said.
Traveling down Sunset Boulevard, they greeted security guards, pizza delivery drivers and people working in movie theaters, a wine shop and even a hair salon that stayed open for the customers they couldn't get to the day before. Hope and Neal shook off stilted language barriers and skeptical exchanges in good humor.
Neal jogged over to a parked taxi and presented the driver with a wrapped cookie.
Armen Arutyunyan was confused at first, but then broke into a smile. He was working because people need taxis — even on Christmas Day, he said. His two children were waiting at home to open presents when he was done for the day.
A nearby Ralph's grocery store was packed with last-minute Christmas shoppers. "If we could just plan our shopping better, these people wouldn't have to work today," said Hope, adding that Marcotte has made him conscious of just how many people work on Christmas for the convenience of others.
In a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, customers stayed glued to their phones and barely noticed Hope and Neal as they thanked the employees who had just made their coffee.
At an Arco gas station, a young man complained about the debit-card fee. Hope walked up to the counter and wished cashier David Ortiz a merry Christmas.
"It's just you working today?" Hope asked, noticing the silence.
Ortiz had been at the station since 8 a.m. and admitted he'd rather be home with his little girl. Looking down at the cookies, he grinned.
"Something to look forward to later," he said. "I'll probably save these for her."